Key Takeaway: Prevailing research on the experiences and learning outcomes of typically developing peers in inclusive settings present more questions than answers. Lack of agreement regarding the definition of inclusion, as well as poor methodological rigor, can be said to account for at-times contradictory findings. There is an acute need for empirical data collection, based on a common understanding of inclusive education, in order for this area of study to yield findings that would be valuable to decision-makers in the international educational community. —Akane Yoshida

Dell’Anna et al. conducted a systematic review of studies published within the last 12 years as part of a wider project aiming to determine the impact of inclusive education and to “foster a constructive dialogue at the international level and offer a foundation for future directions in implementation and research.” Specifically, the authors sought to explore the “attitudes, perspectives, behaviors, academic achievements and noncognitive outcomes” of students without special educational needs (SEN) in inclusive educational settings.

Once eligibility criteria were accounted for, the research team identified 37 studies that met the conditions for inclusion in the review. Of these, 23 used quantitative methods, eight used mixed methods, and six used qualitative methods. Study locations were primarily North America and Europe, with a minority conducted in Asia and the Middle East, and the age ranges of the students spanned from early childhood through to the secondary years. The disabilities of the classmates with SEN involved in the studies included cognitive disabilities or learning differences, developmental disabilities, sensory differences, and physical disabilities.

The research team’s analysis found the following:

  • Gender and age are the most important individual covariables in influencing typically developing peers’ attitudes and behaviors towards their classmates with SEN.
  • Attitudes and behaviors are more positive towards students with physical disabilities than those with intellectual disabilities and are positively correlated with severity of disability.
  • Peers who have had previous experiences with persons with disability are more likely to have positive attitudes and behaviors towards classmates with SEN.
  • Peers expressed concerns about the possibility that the behaviors and difficulties of their classmates with SEN could negatively impact their own learning.
  • Academic and noncognitive outcomes were, in some cases, adversely affected by the presence of peers with SEN. In other cases, there were no reported effects.

While these findings were the initial objective of the review process, the research team stresses that “other epistemological issues emerged as much more compelling.” Specifically, they state that the dearth of experimental studies on the effects of inclusion in a controlled environment meant that they could not “infer a causal relationship between the use of inclusive practices and peers’ attitudes and achievement . . . it was not possible to obtain an accurate portrait of the phenomenon of inclusion in different countries from the perspective of peers.”

The researchers identify the lack of a common definition for what inclusion means in practice as being one of the most significant barriers to the implementation and evaluation of inclusion. With a “narrow and ambiguous view of the concept of school inclusion” and no agreement on the qualities that define success, the team argues that it is impossible to say whether other contextual variables may or may not be impacting results.

Dell’Anna et al. concludes thus: “[due to the] importance of research for policy-making, there is a need to increase the number of experimental studies that can inform on the impact of inclusion, and establish the criteria for methodological quality for both quantitative and qualitative research in inclusive research . . . within the discussed barriers, the risk is to give misinforming and misleading information to stakeholders.”

Summarized Article: Dell’Anna, S., Pellegrini, M., & Ianes, D. (2021). Experiences and learning outcomes of students without special educational needs in inclusive settings: a systematic review. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 25(8), 944-959.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida — Akane believes that developing supportive and nurturing relationships with students is key to helping them to attain their personal benchmarks for success. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process, and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Key Takeaway: School climate is a critical component for successful school outcomes. The type of engagement occurring between students, faculty, and the community, the level of safety, and environmental factors all affect school climate. With school-wide programs focusing on specific domains, like School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for discipline and social and emotional learning for safety, schools can change the perceptions and overall climate. – Ashley Parnell

A safe, supportive school climate is critical for school effectiveness. From teacher longevity, satisfaction, and stress to student academic achievement, problem behavior, and social-emotional health, the impact of school climate on all stakeholders is well supported by research. 

The association of school climate and key school outcomes supports the need for educators to be concerned with creating and sustaining a healthy school climate. Yet, evidence regarding ways to implement change remains limited and reviews focusing on the effects of intervention to improve school climate have not been conducted.

In this systematic review, Charlton, Moulton, Sabey, and West examined methodological quality and findings from 18 experimental studies evaluating the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on teacher and student perceptions of school climate.

Specifically, school climate refers to the comprehensive social and physical conditions, which involve three critical/core domains (DoE, 2014): 

  • Engagement. Relationships between students, teachers, families, and the broader community.
  • Safety. Schools and school-related activities where students are safe from violence, bullying, harassment, and controlled substance use.
  • Environment. Facilities, resource & technology access, teacher-student ratios, and teacher-student retention.

Researchers summarized and analyzed all available experiential research on the topic while prioritizing the highest quality literature when drawing conclusions.

Evidence identified supports the following key conclusions:

  • Careful, systematic implementation of schoolwide programs is likely to improve multiple domains of school climate, specifically the engagement and environment domains for School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) and social and emotional learning (SEL).
  • Findings suggest that programs targeting specific domains of school climate (e.g.., SWPBIS for discipline, SEL for emotion safety) seem effective in changing perceptions. 
  • School climate improvement is amenable to change. This review identified evidence supporting the malleability of school climate and the finding that schoolwide intervention can improve school climate.

While these findings are encouraging, some limitations and recommendations of the current study as they relate to: a) the quality of literature, b) definitions of independent variables, and c) measures of school climate warrant consideration. 

Summarized Article:

Charlton, C.T., Moulton, S., Sabey, C.V., West, R. (2021). A systematic review of the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on student and teacher perceptions of school climate. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions. 23(3), 185-200.

Summary by: Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell—Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Key Takeaway: Teacher language within general and special education classrooms differs for students with autism, resulting in potentially negative impacts. Numerous studies have shown that open-ended questioning and language-rich environments are linked to positive academic achievement and communication development, especially for students with disabilities like autism who may struggle in these areas. —Amanda Jenkins

By analyzing six types of teacher language (open-ended questions, language models, close-ended questions, directives, indirect requests, and fill-ins), Sparapani et al. (2021) found that teachers generally use more directives and close-ended questions when interacting with students with autism, “potentially limiting their opportunities to engage in rich exchanges that support learning and development.”  

The study looked at teacher language in kindergarten to 2nd grade general and special education classrooms and found that while special education classrooms had more language usage overall, both settings had language that consisted primarily of close-ended questions and directives (69% in special education classes, 60% in general education). Open-ended questions were rarely asked in either setting to students with or without autism. Numerous studies and research have shown open-ended questioning fosters active engagement, improves communication skills, decreases problem behaviors, and increases academic growth. 

As Sparapani et al. state, “These data might suggest a need for teachers to include scaffolds, modifications, materials, and/or other adaptations into classroom activities rather than rely on oral language, such as the use of directives and/or close-ended questions, for students with limited language and lower cognitive skills.” More research and development needs to be done to provide teachers with an understanding of the impact their language and questioning practices have on their students.

The authors also indicated that teacher language is related to the individual student’s symptom severity, vocabulary skills, and cognitive ability. The study used multiple standardized tests to determine base-line levels of functioning and skills of the individual participants. Then the researchers focused on the individual student experiences in general and special education settings through the use of video observations and analysis. In both settings, students exhibiting more severe autism symptoms were addressed with mostly directives and significantly less open-ended questions. Special education teachers were more likely to address individual students and general education teachers addressed students in groups more often. As Sparapani et al. state in the findings, “the language environment within special education classrooms may not adequately prepare students for the linguistic and social pragmatic directives within general education classrooms . . . [and] may create an instructional barrier for learners with autism who transition between settings.”  

As special education policy focuses on creating a least restrictive environment and as inclusion/collaborative classroom models increasingly become the norm, students with autism are spending more of their academic time in the general education setting.  This study highlights that it is the teachers and paraprofessionals responsibility to monitor the language used in their teaching practices and to ensure a language-rich classroom experience. Best practices, such as using open-ended questioning and language models, give all students the opportunity to develop academic and communication skills vital to success.

Summarized Article:

Sparapani, N., Reinhardt, V. P., Hooker, J. L., Morgan, L., Schatschneider, C., & Wetherby, A. M. (2021). Evaluating Teacher Language Within General and Special Education Classrooms Serving Elementary Students with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Published. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-021-05115-4

Summary by: Amanda Jenkins—Amanda strives to help students effectively communicate their strengths, weaknesses, and goals, and believes the MARIO Framework provides the structure and foundational skills for students to take ownership of their learning, inside and outside of school.

Key Takeaway: Families should be valued, and we should reconceptualize families as central stakeholders, seen and treated as significant contributors who have authority to influence and impact the trajectory of content and research decisions. This happens when teachers learn from parents who are actively involved in research, design, and inquiry. It shifts the focus by taking into account the family’s popular knowledge and wisdom—expertise that comes mainly from hands-on experiences based on their daily lives, experiences, and needs. —Jay Lingo

Summary: In this research article, Graff explores the Family as Faculty (FAF) approach which emerged out of family-centered care. The idea is to capitalize on the comprehensive knowledge that the families of children with disabilities possess about the children’s needs and strengths. This would create teachable moments for professionals through their personal stories as a way to better understand how to provide the best overall care for the child. This program is an intentional movement for teachers to communicate with families with a respectful understanding that there is value in learning more about the child’s disability through the family’s lens. This program aims to not only provide increased empathy but also effective communication, tolerance for diversity, and extraordinary commitment to partnership.

Despite the numerous advantages of the FAF program, Graff also recognizes that working together is often a complex and difficult process. Some of the main concerns raised in the article are: 

  • Anxiety or being defensive because of previous negative experiences
  • Continuous language and cultural barriers 
  • Being less successful in navigating special education systems for emerging multilinguals

These complexities are even amplified in the multiply marginalized families—families of color who have been historically minoritized on top of having children with disabilities. When assessments are often based on dominant Westernized notions of what educational progress and success looks like or when predominately White, non-disabled monolingual English-speaking teachers are assessing why their child is struggling, they are often viewed through deficit perspectives. This is also why the adaptation of FAF is treated with much urgency. Graff suggests that FAF will provide a platform for families to challenge the existing traditional power hierarchies in education and to question educational power structures that are directly impacting their children.

By making families co-investigators and co-educators, the family is repositioned as active agents of change rather than passive recipients. This partnership is critical when measuring educator impact and reflecting on our own power and privilege in relation to the students and families we are collaborating with.

Article Summarized:

Santamaría Graff, C. (2021). Co-investigation and co-education in ‘family as faculty’ approaches: A repositioning of power. Theory Into Practice, 60(1), 39-50.

Summary By: Jay Lingo